Practice slow, fight fast
If you are looking for one thing to do get the most of your training then slow down and training slowly.
Many people, especially new students, struggle with this, because it goes against everything they imagine a martial art to be – a whirl of limbs, firing off punches and kicks quicker than they eye can see. After all, a real fight is going to happen quickly, is not it?
But training is not about fighting. It is about learning and slow training is the best way to learn.
When you go slowly you can pay attention to what you are doing right and what you need to correct. Is my foot in the right position? Am I using my legs? Have I moved in the right direction? Am I using good kamae? Am I balanced? Have I taken my opponent’s balance? Am I using too much strength? What is the relationship between me and my opponent? What can I do from here? What can my opponent do from here? Have I applied that joint lock properly? You cannot answer all these questions if you are training quickly and you have to know what you are doing wrong in order to correct it. That is what learning is.
Training slowly also allows you to get control of your body and learn to move in the right way. After all, you cannot do properly quickly what you cannot do properly slowly. If you cannot drive a car safely at 30kph then there is now way you can drive one safely at 130kph.
But surely you have to train fast to be prepared for a real fight that will happen fast? Yes and no. Faster training has its place, of course, but it is a limited place. It surprises many people to learn that you can practice slow but fight fast.
While many martial artists reject this vehemently, I have known this to be true for a long time but have never really known why because intuitively it sounds odd. Fortunately, Rory Miller in his book Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence solved the mystery with a simple explanation.
Miller is a martial artist who was a prison guard for 20 years and has had more real fights than almost anyone, so he speaks for extensive experience about how to train in the dojo to be able to apply it in reality.
Every martial arts training method has a flaw in it and that flaw is there by design because we cannot injure or kill our training partner. The flaws are there to make training safe. For example, if you train with gloves and pads then those are protections that do not exist in a real fight (flaw); if you spar then there has to be rules such as no eye gouging (flaw) and, of course, if you train slowly you are training at a different speed to a real fight (flaw).
Miller then explains how these flaws carry over into the real world. There is a danger, for example, that training with pads and gloves will cause you to develop habits that are safe with pads and gloves but dangerous without them in the real word.
Slow training’s great value is that its flaw of being slow does not carry over into the real world. Why not? It is simply impossible to move at a slow training speed when someone is really trying to hit you because your natural survival instincts will not allow that to happen. You will move quickly enough naturally and the training flaw does not carry over. (It is possible to freeze, however, due to the adrenal response but that is a different topic.)
He notes one very important caveat. You must train slowly in the correct way. If your training partner attacks you slowly, you are not allowed to move quickly to defeat him or her. You must move at the same speed. You must not exploit the training flaw to beat them. That flaw will not exist in reality so you should not exploit it in training.